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How to Enable the "root" Account on Mac OS X


Last updated: 8 August 2012

Detailed Method using NetInfo Manager

These instructions allow you to enable the "root" account, or to reset the password for any user, not just "root". This only works for Mac OS X 10.4 or earlier, because NetInfo Manager was removed after that.
  1. If you so desire, you can first verify that the "root" user account is indeed locked. One way to do this is to get a shell prompt by running the Terminal application, found at
    Macintosh HD -> Applications -> Utilities -> Terminal

    At the command prompt type this command:

    % nidump passwd .
    (Don't type the "%" - that represents the Unix command prompt. And don't forget the "dot" at the end, which indicates that the "password" map to be dumped to the screen is the one on this machine, not the password map from a remote server.) You should see a line like this:
    root:*:0:0:System Administrator:/var/root:/bin/tcsh
    The "*" is where the encrypted password for the user would normally go. If the "root" account has a "*" then it is not possible for a user to become "root".

  2. To remove the "*" (or any old password) you can run the NetInfo Manager application, which is also in the Utilities folder:
    Macintosh HD -> Applications -> Utilities -> NetInfo Manager

  3. With "/" in the left column select the "users" map in the second column and click on the ""root"" user.

  4. Click on the lock icon at the bottom of the window marked "Click to make changes". Enter the administrative password as prompted. You are now free to make changes to the users map.

  5. Find the "passwd" property and double click on the value field to alter it (it should contain just the "*", or possibly an old encrypted password). Delete the "*" and make sure there are no spaces left in the value field.

    You cannot simply enter a new password here, because Unix stores an encrypted version of the password in the user database (passwd map). You will need to use the passwd command (step 7 below) to enter a new password.

  6. Pull down the "Domain" menu from the top bar and select "Save Changes". Confirm that you really want to make the change. At this point your computer has the root account enabled with no password, which is very dangerous.

  7. Get a shell prompt (from the Terminal application, as described in step 1 above). Enter the command:
    % su root
    (Don't enter the %, that represents the Unix command prompt.) When prompted for the password, just hit "return". Then add a password with the `passwd root` command, like so:
    # passwd root Changing password for root New password: Verify password:
    (Don't enter the #, that is the root command prompt on Unix.) The password you type won't be printed on the screen, which is why you are asked to type it twice for verification.

    Be sure to pick a good password for the "root" account. If your computer is connected to the Internet is may be possible for someone to get in to your computer as "root" if you have a weak password. Some useful guidelines for picking a good (or bad) password may be found here.

  8. Log out and log in as the "root" user to verify that it worked. If the login screen shows a list of users it won't show the "root" user so you will have to select "Other".

  9. It's very useful for the "root" user to have the Terminal application always in the Dock. Here is how to do that:

    • First, start up the Terminal application (Macintosh HD -> Applications -> Utilities -> Terminal)

    • Hold down the "control" key as you click on the icon of the Terminal application in the Dock. A menu will appear. Select the item "Keep In Dock".
To disable the "root" account, or any user account, follow the directions above to edit the "user" map with NetInfo Manager, and put a "*" in the passwd field.

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Last modified: Wednesday August 08, 2012 Copyright © 2012 by Spy Hill Research http://spy-hill.net /help/apple/EnableRoot4.html